Cannabis and Alternative Therapies for Sleep: A Quick Reference

Updated: Jul 26


According to the Sleep Health Foundation, symptoms of insomnia affect 60 percent of Australians. Worse, nearly 15 percent of Australians meet the criteria to be formally diagnosed with insomnia.


Insomnia can seriously affect health, wellbeing, and general quality of life. However, treatments available in Australia like medical marijuana, meditation, and cognitive behavioural therapy can offer hope and relief.


What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder. It affects your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up at the right time. As you’d expect, insomnia can be challenging to deal with. Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to work and socialise and, over long periods, damage your physical health.


There are two forms of insomnia:

  • Acute insomnia lasts for a few days to a few weeks. It’s often linked to stressful or traumatic life events and will resolve when the stress is decreased.

  • Chronic insomnia lasts three months or longer and affects your sleep at least three days per week. Chronic insomnia can be more challenging to overcome, as many potential causes and treatments exist.

Women and older people are more likely to experience insomnia. A study by the Sleep Health Foundation found that people in stressful situations such as financial instability, shift work, and unemployment are also more likely to experience insomnia. Insomnia can result from other health conditions, but sometimes it can occur with no clear cause.


Symptoms of Insomnia

If you’re experiencing insomnia, you’ll notice the first symptoms as you try to fall asleep at night. You might find that you can’t sleep when you get into bed. Or you may fall asleep but then wake up too early and be unable to fall asleep again.


Some people with insomnia find their sleep is consistently interrupted and they never wake up feeling refreshed. As a result, many people with chronic insomnia experience increased anxiety, which frustratingly makes it even more difficult to fall asleep.


If you experience insomnia for longer than a few days, you’ll likely notice the effects in your day-to-day life. Fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, and difficulty regulating emotions are common symptoms of chronic insomnia.


Over the long term, a lack of sleep can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. It also increases the risk of physical health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, and even early death.


Causes of Insomnia

There isn’t just one cause of insomnia. Instead, different lifestyle and health factors combine to make it more likely that someone will experience insomnia.


Insomnia can be caused by:

  • Stressful and traumatic life events like divorce or the death of a loved one

  • Shift work or changes to sleep habits

  • Certain medications

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use

  • Jet lag

Experiencing other health concerns makes insomnia more likely. It’s common to experience insomnia alongside:

  • Other sleep disorders, e.g. sleep apnea

  • Chronic pain

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Diabetes

  • Cardiovascular disease

For women, insomnia is more likely during pregnancy and menopause because changes in hormones can disrupt sleep. This is one reason women are overall more likely to experience insomnia.


Older people are also more likely to experience insomnia. As we age, our circadian rhythm shifts, making us wake up and go to bed earlier, which can be difficult to adapt to. A lack of daily structure in retirement can also contribute to insomnia.


Treatments for Insomnia

It’s best to work with a doctor to develop a plan to treat insomnia. Combining strategies from cognitive behavioural therapy to lifestyle changes to medical marijuana can help you get a good night’s sleep.


Prescription Medications

There are some medications that can provide short-term relief for insomnia. Mostly these are sedatives. In the long-term, however, these drugs can be addictive and dangerous to use with other sedatives such as alcohol. As a result, most doctors won’t prescribe them for an extended period.


Lifestyle Changes

If you seek help from your doctor for insomnia, they’ll ask you about your sleep habits and routine. It’s often possible to improve your sleep quality by making changes such as:

  • Having a regular sleep schedule

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco in the evening

  • Getting enough exercise - but not too close to bedtime

  • Not using electronic devices in the hour before bed

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

If lifestyle changes don’t work, cognitive behavioural therapy is often prescribed. This involves working with a therapist to control the negative thoughts and anxieties that contribute to insomnia. They’ll also help you build better sleep habits and strategies.


Alternative Therapies

Home remedies and alternative therapies can also be effective for treating insomnia. Scientific evidence for the effectiveness of many of these therapies is increasing. They include:

Alternative Therapies Are Effective for Insomnia

While insomnia can be extremely difficult to cope with, many treatment options are available. Work with your healthcare provider to explore options available in Australia. From medical marijuana to therapy, there are ways to get some much needed sleep!